First Nation Representation in Video Games

Never Alone

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Despite massive globalisation and international interdependence, the indigenous community is still very underrepresented in the media.

In fact, we’ve long observed misrepresentation of Native American cultures in movies, sports, art, and fashion. As a part of mass media, the video game industry invariably demonstrates very similar tendencies. Until recently, when depicting Native people, video games continuously kept falling back on intentional inaccuracies and corny stereotypes that are still quite popular among pop culture enthusiasts.

Perpetuating stereotypes

Even when Native people were actually portrayed in video games, it often suggested negative and even somewhat stigmatising context. In the long run, most depictions of American Indians in video games came down to a mash-up of stereotypes that created real primitive or even violent characters. Even trusted and secure Kahnawake casinos online occasionally featured games filled with those types of misrepresentations.

Have you ever played Pokémon Go? If you have, you’ve definitely seen Xatu – an exotic bird-like psychic Pokémon that closely resembles a West Coast totem pole. Just look at Xatu, and you will see the way indigenous people have been portrayed in video games until recently. Antiquated villains (or victims) who live in wigwams, throw tomahawks, wear headdresses and feathers. No depth, no cultural insights, no identity. Here are some video games that have started this misrepresentation ‘trend’: Indian Attack (1983), Kane (1986), Hammer Boy (1991), Cowboy Kid (1991), Street Fighter (1993) and Mortal Kombat (1995).

The glimmers of progress

Things began to change when the game Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was released in 1997. While this game was still deeply influenced by multiple previously mentioned stereotypes, it became one of the first to introduce a Native protagonist. Even more vital improvements took place with the release of the game Prey in 2006. It was created in collaboration with Native Americans and featured the Native protagonist with a complicated personality instead of the flat primitive caricatures of his predecessors.

Following Prey, Assassin’s Creed 3 was released in 2012. Both Native and Western American developers had worked on its creation, making sure that the Native protagonist’s past was represented with 100% accuracy and absolute cultural respect. In addition to all the accurate culture elements, the game even featured the Mohawk language. The game grants you the possibility to immerse into the vibrant Mohawk culture.

Never Alone – the gem of Native-made game development

While Prey and Assassin’s Creed 3 greatly contributed to the freedom of self-portrayal for Natives in the media, an even more global improvement was marked by the creation of Native-owned and conducted video game companies. Upper One Games released Never Alone in 2014, which not only were free from cultural appropriation but became a true breakthrough in terms of the portrayal of first nations in video games.

In the game, Nuna, the girl protagonist, along with her friend, an arctic fox, set off to end a heavy snowfall that threatens their entire culture. It’s fascinating that the game’s imagery is breathtakingly interconnected with Iñupiaq art, and the story is narrated in the Iñupiaq language. In other words, Never Alone was created to cater to the Iñupiaq audience. What is more, the game totally diminished flat stereotypes from the past. It portrayed the fascinating authenticity of indigenous groups and created deep culturally sensitive environments.

Ways to grow

These days, as more Native people participate in video game development and game company operation, an impressive number of Native-made projects are being constantly released. Indigenous game makers now have the possibility to extensively inject their unique protagonists, their awe-inspiring stories, their beautiful legends into the game. Native American characters are no longer portrayed as superficial cliché-fueled background caricatures. They are no longer mocked or taken for granted.

Culturally rich and stereotype-shattering, video games of today research and reclaim indigenous communities’ native identity. Through Native-made video games, indigenous game makers masterfully communicate their cultures and successfully penetrate the game development market.